Bigtime boxing is doing reasonably well in New York City with Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden at the center of the action. But club fights are struggling. That’s due in part to the high cost of promoting in the Big Apple. It’s also because suitable venues keep disappearing, particularly in Manhattan.
Four years ago, Roseland Ballroom (which hosted 27 fight cards) was demolished to make way for a high-rise office building. The latest casualty of the Manhattan real estate wars is B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, located nine blocks north of Madison Square Garden in Times Square.
B.B. King opened in 2000. It was primarily a music venue. Artists who performed there, in addition to B.B. King, included Little Richard, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Boyz II Men, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Al Green, Judy Collins, Don McLean, Gregg Allman, Billy Ray Cyrus, Eric Burdon, Peter Frampton, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The first fight card at B.B. King took place on August 6, 2008. Randall Bailey knocked out Dairo Esales in the main event. All told, 29 cards were promoted at the venue by Lou DiBella as part of his “Broadway Boxing” series.
The room had the appearance of a fire trap. Its tiny dressing rooms and backstage corridors were suffocatingly hot during the summer months. The ring was set up just below the front of the stage, which gave credentialed media, who were seated on the stage, an incredible view of the action. Most of the sightlines for patrons were good, although there was an inconvenient pillar or two. Many fans stood all night by a large bar in the back of the room.
DiBella used the shows to develop fighters that his promotional company had signed. If he was lucky, he broke even on a given night. Over the years, “Broadway Boxing” at B.B. King showcased Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuri Foreman, Badou Jack, Sadam Ali, Andy Lee, Charles Martin, Joe Smith, Seanie Monaghan, Sergey Lipinets, Tevin Farmer, and Sergey Derevyanchenko. The last fight card at the club was contested on February 2, 2018. Rising rent forced it to close at the end of April.
“I adored B.B. King,”DiBella says, looking back on it all. “Doing a show there always made me feel better. The atmosphere was great. We had some future champions on the cards. But what made me feel particularly good was when a club fighter came in, upset a heavy favorite, and had the best night of his career right there. Losing B.B. King as a venue is a loss for me and a loss for boxing.”
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The World Boxing Council can be frustratingly inconsistent when it comes to the use of performance enhancing drugs in boxing. On the plus side – and it’s a big plus – in 2016, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman inaugurated the Clean Boxing Program in conjunction with VADA. But on the debit side of the ledger, there have been times when the WBC, after collecting a significant fine for a positive drug test, has issued a questionable ruling on an issue of importance in favor of the transgressor.
One particularly troubling wrinkle involved Canelo Alvarez.
Under WBC rules, any boxer who refuses to enroll in the Clean Boxing Program is to be removed from the WBC rankings and stripped of his title if he has one. Canelo Alvarez has refused to enroll in the Clean Boxing Program since its inception. Yet he maintained his ranking.
On May 12, the new WBC rankings were released. Canelo is no longer listed.
Congratulations to WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman for making a painful but necessary decision.
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I’ve written it before and I’ll keep writing it until the situation is corrected. The New York State Athletic Commission needs to train a new generation of referees and judges.
This week’s case in point is the May 12 championship fight at Madison Square Garden between Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares.
It was a great fight. The overwhelming majority of knowledgeable observers had Lomachenko ahead when he KO’d Linares with a brutal body shot in round ten. But ring judge Robin Taylor had Linares ahead by two points. That prompted promoter Bob Arum to ask what fight Taylor was watching. Arum wasn’t alone in his sentiments.
Let’s take a closer look at the issue. In round four, Lomachenko was dominant. According to CompuBox, he outlanded Linares by a 25-to-15 margin. He landed more “power punches.” He landed more jabs. The other two judges correctly scored the round for Lomachenko. Taylor gave it to Linares.
Suppose Lomachenko-Linares had gone the distance? Suppose two judges had been off the mark instead of one? Has anyone at the NYSAC watched a video of the fight with Taylor and asked her what her thought processes were?
Fighters’ careers are at stake. Their economic future is on the line.
Judges are sitting on the ring apron. They have the best seats in the house. The men and women who sit in these seats should get it right.
Photo credit: Amy K. Nelson
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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